One of the biggest questions of Vanlife is how to financially sustain a life on the road. For us, one of the ways we fund our travels is through Ashley’s travel nursing career. She has been an Emergency Department and Intensive Care nurse for the past five years. In that time she has worked a variety of full time, per diem, regional travel, and cross country travel positions. Nursing is an incredibly rewarding career and one that is extremely flexible offering the freedom required to travel more.
Travel nursing is a great profession for vanlife due to the ease in finding seasonal work. Additionally travel nursing contracts are typically more lucrative than staff positions. Due to the flexibility in scheduling and working three 12 hour shifts a week, you are sometimes able to schedule eight days off in a row without taking vacation time. Passports and Preemies has famously coined this the eight Day Vacay. In this post we will explain what it takes to become a travel nurse and how to make it work for you for Vanlife.
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Graduate from an Accredited Nursing Program
This is the first step towards travel nursing and arguably one of the toughest. You can graduate with your Associate Degree in Nursing which is a 2 year program, or your Bachelor degree in Nursing which is a 4 year program. Another option is doing an accelerated second degree bachelors program which is what Ashley did. Any of these routes will allow you to sit for you board exam and earn the title of Registered Nurse. Though not required, you will be a more competitive applicant if you have your Bachelor’s Degree. Additionally, many hospitals are requiring you to obtain your Bachelors degree so many years after hiring on. Nursing school is tough but it is so worth it for the career opportunities you are afforded.
Get 1-2 Years Experience in Your Specialty
This is an often debated topic but in our opinion, you should have at least 2 years experience in your specialty before travelling. There are travel companies and hospitals that will hire you with less experience. We would recommend against going with these agencies. As a travel nurse, you are expected to work with minimal orientation to the hospital and unit. You need to be able to function on your own as a nurse without much help. When you take a contract, it is your nursing license and patients lives on the line. Being viewed as a major resource on your unit is a good sign that you are ready to be a travel nurse.
Get in Contact with a Recruiter
As a travel nurse, you work as a contract worker employed through a third party agency. Your recruiter will be your liaison between you and the hospital. You can take direct travel contracts through a hospital however this is more difficult and something that few and only seasoned travelers do. Another alternative to having a recruiter is using companies like Trusted and Nomad Health. These companies have “nurse advocates” who will assist you in the process but they do not have commissioned recruiters. Having a recruiter can give you more negotiating power, especially as a newer travel nurse, however they get paid to work for you. This means recruiterless models are able to pay higher contracts. There are several travel nursing companies out there, you can do your research on which ones are appealing to you.
In our opinion, your recruiter matters more than the company. Ashley travels through Host Healthcare which is a smaller company, she found her recruiter through the recommendation of another traveler. Recommendations are everything, that way you have faith that your recruiter will go to bat for you. If you are looking for a solid recruiter, feel free to reach out and we will share our recruiters contact information! Your recruiter will discuss your travel nursing goals, where you want to travel, and for how long. Some people travel for the destination, some for the money, and some for the resume experience.
Submit Your Profile to Facilities
Depending on what you want out of your travel nursing experience, your recruiter will begin showing you contracts that match your goals. Contracts can vary from six weeks to eight weeks to 13 weeks. 13 week contracts are the most common. Look over your list of options and at this point you can decide to submit your request to a hospital. It is important to do your research on the facility before submitting. You should be prepared to accept an offer so be sure it is a hospital you would want to work at. MedVenture is an awesome app that has hospital reviews from travel nurses. Some hospitals do direct offers while some require an interview. For my most recent contract I voice recorded answers to an interview, each facility is different.
Sign a Contract
After submitting for jobs you will begin getting offers, if you verbally accept, you will be sent a contract. In this contract there should be details about your hourly rate, non-taxable stipend for housing and meals, overtime rate, any time off, how many hours a week you are contracted to work, and how often the facility can cancel you. This is an important note to have in your contract, hospitals want to save as much money as they can and you, being the highest paid employee, will often be the first to get sent home. In my contracts, the facility can only cancel me twice a month without pay. Some travel nurses also choose to have stipulations in their contracts about how often they can be floated to other units.
Ensure You Qualify for Tax Free Stipends
*Disclaimer: we are not experts on tax law, we are simply sharing knowledge we have acquired through the process. These are general concepts we are sharing to get you started. If you have questions on your individual situation, we suggest contacting a CPA.*
Have a Tax Home
One of the greatest benefits of travel nursing is the tax advantages. As a travel nurse, you are working a contract away from home. As long as you maintain what is referred to as a ‘tax home’ and are duplicating your expenses, you are eligible for untaxed stipends for meals and housing. To have a tax home, you have to “do your business” in a region, and incur expenses in that region. This means your permanent address is located here, your car is registered here, you maintain a nursing license for that state, and you return there each year. To incur expenses you must either be paying a mortgage or be paying fair market value for rent.
To duplicate expenses, you must be paying living expenses in your tax home and at your travel location. This is the tricky part for vanlifers, as we all know, boondocking is the best. Unfortunately, from what we can determine, boondocking does not count as duplicating expenses. For this reason we rent an apartment or RV site while on contract and spend our days off exploring in our van. You can opt to rent a spot in an RV park but you have to be paying for that spot for the duration of your contract. It doesn’t count to rent a spot for the three days you are working and boondock the rest of the time.
Other Options/ Resources
An alternative to taking tax free stipends is being qualified as an internant worker. An internant worker is someone who does not have a tax home and is not duplicating expenses. In this case, you take the stipends fully taxed. If you are a vanlifer who wants to boondock your whole assignment, this is a great option. Just let your recruiter know you want to be fully taxed. There are plenty of people who take tax free stipends without qualifying. If you are unlucky and get audited and the IRS finds that you were not duplicating expenses, you will have to pay back the taxes you owe with interest. For this reason, we prefer to do things by the book. For more information of travel nursing taxes visit Travel Tax and Blue Pipes. Highway Hypodermics is also an excellent resource for allied health travelers.
Find Housing/RV Parking
As we mentioned above, due to tax laws, boondocking is not an option to take tax free stipends. If you can find an RV park close to your facility to stay in your van, this will generally be cheaper than renting a furnished apartment. You will have to book a spot for the entirety of your contract to qualify for untaxed stipends. If you can’t find a convenient RV park close to your contract, finding housing is another option. The three main ways to find housing are hotels, furnished month to month apartments and AirBnB. You can find extended stay hotels which will often have discounts for nurses. Furnished Finders is an excellent resource for finding furnished month to month leases. If you are looking at an AirBnB, use our link for $65 off your stay.
Start Your Contract and Profit
This is the most exciting part! Starting your contract can be intimidating but you will find that most staff is super happy you are there and willing to help you acclimate. Working as a travel nurse will improve your nursing practice, widen your perspectives in medicine, and allow you to make lifelong friendships. Depending on your facility, you may have the option to extend your contract, if you like the facility you are at and want to stay, extending a contract can sometimes be easier than finding a new one. If you are looking to see as much as you can or looking to take time off, you can just complete your contract as signed. We love the ability to work for 13 weeks and then take an extended amount of time off between contracts to travel in the van.
Travel nursing is an exciting and flexible career. It allows you to make more money than a staff nurse and take more time off. It allows you to see the country and see how different areas and hospitals practice medicine differently. As a vanlifer, travel nursing is an excellent career to live a life on the road, you receive stipends to stay in one place in an RV park, and can take as much time off in between contracts as you want. To see other vanlifers who are allied health travelers, check out We The Wanderers (blog) We The Wanderers (instagram), Skip and Jazz Johnson, and Lindsey and Danny Vanlife. Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!